Piece by piece, Biden’s vaccine mandate policy is being taken apart. Congress abolished the vaccine mandate on military personnel as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.More recently, the House of Representatives bills passed bills to end the Covid-19 national emergency and drop the Administration’s vaccination requirement on foreign travelers entering the United.
Though the Supreme Court upheld the mandate on health workers, it struck down the mandate on 80 million private sector workers. And while the mandate for federal contractors is tied up in litigation, House Republicans are taking aim at the mandate on federal workers.
But killing these mandates is not enough. The new House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, chaired by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), should determine why, exactly, President Biden and his administration imposed this unprecedented set of vaccination mandates, accompanied by penalties, fines, and threats of job losses, on tens of millions of Americans.
Congress needs clarity on the policy rationale. In December 2020 then President-elect Joe Biden promised that he would “crush” the deadly coronavirus but would not impose a vaccination mandate. Likewise, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to both Presidents Trump and Biden, in August of 2020 observed, “If someone refuses the vaccine in the general public, then there’s nothing you can do about that. You cannot force someone to take a vaccine.”
On Sept. 9, 2021, Biden reversed course and announced his intention to impose multiple vaccine mandates, affecting private sector employees, health care workers, federal employees, federal contractors, and military personnel.
What changed? Leading up to this 180-degree course reversal, neither the president nor his officials offered compelling justifications for the mandate policy. Indeed, they made contradictory and confusing declarations that undercut the case for a mandate. For example:
- On March 29, 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky declaredthat the Covid vaccines would prevent transmission: “We’re vaccinating so very fast, our data from the CDC today suggests, you know, that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick, and that it's not just in the clinical trials but it's also in the real-world data.”
- On April 1, 2021, CDC officials “walked back” Walensky’s declaration. A CDC spokesman told The New York Times, “Dr. Walensky spoke broadly during this interview. It’s possible that some people who are fully vaccinated could get Covid-19. The evidence isn’t clear whether they can spread the virus to others. We are continuing to evaluate the evidence.”
- Yet, on July 21, 2021, Biden told a CNN audience that vaccinated Americans could not get infected and should not wear a mask. “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations,” he said. At that time, however, the Delta variant had emerged, and vaccinated persons were indeed getting infected.
- On Aug. 18, 2021, with the Delta variant spreading rapidly, Walensky expressed concern that the “current strong protection against severe infection, hospitalization and death could decrease in the months ahead.”Curiously, as Dr. Walensky and other federal officials were concedingthat Covid vaccine effectiveness was waning and that vaccinated people could contract the disease and spread it to others, the administration was getting ready to force people to get vaccinated.
On Sept. 9, 2021, President Bien announced his vaccine mandate program, saying: “The bottom line: We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers.”That’s a puzzling defense of a vaccine mandate.Later that month, he called Covid-19 “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
The basic premise of the 2021 policy — that vaccination would protect the public from infection and transmission of the coronavirus — was flawed. And Administration officials should have known it. Rapid viral mutations—the emergence of multiple variants and subvariants — was undercutting the effectiveness of the vaccines. In fact, the accumulating data proved that the 2021 Delta and later Omicron caseload surge, which accounted for 73 percent of new Covid cases by December 2021, was not a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Note that in December 2020, when FDA career officials granted the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, the agency clearly stated that the clinical trials had not provided “evidence that the vaccine prevents transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from person to person.”
Referring to the Pfizer vaccine in February 2022, the FDA website stated: “Most vaccines that protect from viral illnesses also reduce transmission of the virus that causes the disease by those who are vaccinated. While it is hoped this will be the case, the scientific community does not yet know if the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine will reduce such transmission.”
On the key point of infection prevention, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the Coronavirus Task Force under President Trump, was forthright: “I knew these vaccines were not going to protect against infection. And I think we overplayed the vaccines, and it made people then worry that it's not going to protect against severe disease and hospitalization.”
Dr. Birx was right on both counts. In February 2022, a Heritage Foundation statistical analysis of the mounting data showed that vaccination was not a protection against infection, and that the surge in Covid cases was not a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In fact, in July 2022, after getting fully vaccinated and twice boosted, President Biden himself contracted the coronavirus. Though Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data had shown that vaccination protected Covid patients from severe hospitalization and death compared to unvaccinated patients, vaccination per se was never a guarantee.
By August of 2022, The Washington Post reported, 58 percent of deaths related to Covid-19 were among vaccinated or boosted persons.
Congress, therefore, has an obligation to probe the rationale for these comprehensive vaccine mandates. Because Biden’s repeated high-profile declarations were wrong, it is fair to ask: Did the president’s advisers provide him with a scientific justification for the breadth and scope of these unprecedented mandates?When Biden was preparing to impose the mandates, what did his advisors know, or not know, concerning the effectiveness of the vaccines to prevent infection and transmission?Why did the Biden administration insist on the mandates without considering the risk/benefit calculation for different cohorts of the population?
From the onset of the pandemic, the data showed that older persons — particularly those over age 65 with comorbidities such as cardiac and pulmonary conditions, diabetes and obesity — were at most risk from severe illness, hospitalization, and death with Covid-19. Obviously, they were prime candidates for vaccination.
Persons under age 50 had a much lower risk, and healthy children under the age of 18 faced hardly any risk at all. For example, CDC reported that, through Oct. 12, 2022, out of more than one million deaths associated with COVID-19, only 1,310 were under age 18.
The Covid vaccines carry serious risks, such as myocarditis (heart inflammation). The benefits and the risks of the Covid vaccines relative to the risks of the coronavirus vary significantly according to age, health status, the acquisition of natural immunity from previous infection, and the presence of underlying health conditions. Writing in the December 2021 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers concluded, “Among patients in a large Israeli health system who had received at least one dose of the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine, the estimated incidence of myocarditis was 2.2 cases per 100,000 persons; the highest incidence was among male patients between the ages of 16 and 29 years.”
Data should guide policy. Young adults should be free to weigh the demonstrably low risk of serious illness from Covid-19 against the small benefit and unknown risk of the Covid vaccines. Examining the impact of university mandates on young adults 18 to 29 years of age in 2022, researchers writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, concluded, “Based on public data provided by the CDC, we estimate that in the fall of 2022 at least 31,207-42,836 young adults aged 18-29 years must be boosted with an mRNA vaccine to prevent one Omicron-related COVID-19 hospitalization over 6 months.”
They further concluded, “Mandates are also associated with wider social harms. The fact that such policies were implemented despite controversy among experts and without updating the sole publicly available risk–benefit analysis to the current Omicron variants nor submitting the methods to public scrutiny suggests a profound lack of transparency in scientific and regulatory policy making. These findings have implications for mandates in other settings such as schools, corporations, healthcare systems and the military.” Exactly.
One more thing: When any medical intervention entails any personal risk, personal consent — not government coercion — is the ethical imperative.
Robert E. Moffit is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Health and Welfare Policy.